I’m the problem with modern football, and I don’t care
These are the officially recognised Legitimate Reasons For Supporting a Football Club:
- You are from the same place as the team you support.
- You have a relative (usually dad or granddad) who is from the same place as the team you support.
- Your relative isn’t from the same place as the team you - or they - support, but their glory support has been legitimised by being passed down a generation.
Look, I get that the majority of disdain towards glory supporters comes from an essentially ideologically correct position. We all have a civic duty to our local sides, and fair play to those of you who attend their side come rain or shine, whether under tycoons or supporters trust, to the Barclays or until bust, and at Wembley or on a pitch that doubles up as a layby. You have my eternal respect. More than snatching at the glory of successful strangers, you want to experience something that will last beyond the Match of the Day credits: a connection. The team you support is a direct representation of where you come from, and by extension, of you. You are both forged in the same fire. Sure, they may not make you celebrate every weekend, but their existence stirs a pride in you and your community that could endure forever.
But you know what’s also good? Celebrating every week.
One of the catastrophic decisions I made as a four-year-old was not plumping for Real Madrid or Barcelona, instead of Arsenal. Imagine approaching a season thinking “maybe this will be our year”, and then it actually being your year. Every year. If only I’d glory supported either of the Spanish duopoly (or both), I’d be perennially happy. When you support Arsenal, it’s only your year like, once or twice a decade. It sucks. Anyway, I’m not even from North London. Or London. Or England.
Like most glory supporters, I have a simpering shopping list of justifications to hand whenever I’m challenged by the purist I was the only real football fanatic in my family, so didn’t inherit any allegiance; my dad wasn’t interested enough to take me to see our closest decent side during my formative years; besides, they were crap, in the old Third Division, and never on telly back then; my tiny infant mind was only capable of identifying three teams, and everyone else in my school glory-supported Manchester United or Liverpool, and as an insufferable precocious little wretch, I thought that supporting Arsenal made me a subversive champion of the underdog; I vaguely remember my half-sister enthusing about Dennis Bergkamp, once; and in the first year I ‘supported’ Arsenal, they won the double. It’s probably, largely, almost entirely because of that, to be honest.
When you’re an unremarkable kid whose dad certainly couldn’t batter anyone else’s dad, the bragging rights afforded by your football team actually winning stuff is a powerful buzz. If I’d have relied on my closest clubs in the Welsh pyramid make me feel better about myself during my miserable little childhood, it would have probably had the inverse effect. (As supporting Wales, until Euro 2016, did.) Instead, I got to feel pretty damn great, the Invincibles coinciding nicely with my ascent into puberty. While you were feeling all morose about your confusing hormones and a dawning realisation that you might not be as special as your parents told you, but were in fact a complete idiot loser from a nowhere place, destined to go nowhere, I was getting distracted with a healthy dose of jubilant escapism served up by the swashbuckling feet of Thierry Henry and co. In a very pathetic but, ultimately, extremely gratifying way, supporting Arsenal allowed me assume an identity that wasn’t mine: that of an actual winner.
It’s a lot easier to get haughty about not being a glory supporter when you or your dad or whoever is actually from Manchester, or London, or Liverpool. And you people are always the haughtiest. And the most selfish. You are the people who get to watch the beautiful game played to an elite standard week in week out, by the sport’s foremost talents. And you get a choice: the stadium on your doorstep, or on telly. No relying BBC Sports livetext updates, no waiting around for the Football League Show (or Sgorio), no having to make do with fan-captured footage for highlights, and no having to make do with the minnows you’re chained to by accident of birth. Yours is an authentic pride, burnished by consistent consecutive seasons of silverware. And you want to keep your superior city sides’ glory all to yourselves. But I want in.
What part of Arsenal am I from? The part that spent a decade celebrating during the Wenger era, and then another decade not celebrating also during the Wenger era. The part that has sunk more time and energy following their transfer rumours and furiously debating their shortcomings than could have sensibly been spent on a much more worthwhile hobby. The part that yearned to be from somewhere else, and to be someone else, with cause to celebrate. There’s a lot of us that seem to hail from that section of North London, and Greater Manchester, and Barcelona.
The football clubs that provide the most accessible and reliable causes to celebrate aren’t evenly distributed around the globe. They’re mostly concentrated in Europe, in the Premier League. And even those clubs have come somewhat unstuck from the places the pertain to represent. The majority are owned by billionaire investors and consortiums, run as multinational franchises that trade players as assets and treat trophies as expedient brand building exercises.
Supporting a club above is an absurd thing when viewed rationally. Pledging a permanent affinity to what amounts to a set of shirts that we hope can be filled by footballers who will thrill us, care about us, represent us, when ultimately, they represent the interests of a business. The desires of the fans are secondary to profit. If a board believe they stand to gain financially from selling your favourite players, by having the team play functionally efficient but essentially boring football, or by changing the badge, the kit and moving them 50 miles up the motorway, they will. If we’re being this cynical, supporting a successful club because they’re based in your area is not far enough removed from celebrating the turnover of your local supermarket. Are we all just cheerleaders for our favourite consumer interests and the pursuit of capital?
No, of course not. Other than the select few talking about net spend, we rally round football teams because we want to experience vicarious triumph that may be missing from the rest of our lives, simple as. We want them to help us transcend ourselves, to be part of something greater, and to experience collective joy, if only for 38 weeks a year. Of course, if you suffer a lifetime of a hometown side who finally come good, yours will be a euphoric pride unfathomable to the bandwagon-jumping glory supporters who arrive in time to cheer you over the final hurdle. But some of us aren’t as willing to endure a dismal football team that makes us earn our happiness over decades of suffering. Some of us need our fix quick and regular. That’s why we choose to support Arsenal…